While many people associate the holidays with cheer, communication challenges can create a different holiday scenario: loneliness. According to an AARP survey, 31 percent of adults report that they have felt lonely during the holiday season at least once during the past five years. Unfortunately, teens and adolescents also experience depression, anxiety and loneliness during the holidays, with loneliness directly tied to the mastery of social skills, which is heavily based upon the ability to communicate.
Reasons for loneliness can vary. Some older adults may be geographically isolated from friends and family. In their advanced years, seniors may miss the love and companionship of those who once played significant roles in their lives and have since passed away. Other individuals may lead lifestyles that are isolating, especially in a post-COVID world where venturing into public may create feelings of anxiety regarding exposure to public health concerns.
But there’s another factor that can contribute to isolation during the holidays. Communication challenges can feel embarrassing or prevent people from socializing. For example, older adults begin to experience difficulties with communication as they age. Both physical and physiological, these changes can become barriers for older adults who still want to engage. Faced with these new challenges at this stage in their life, a study shows older adults may start to feel isolated, depressed, anxious, and ultimately lonely. These feelings are often amplified during the holidays, when it can seem like everyone else is able to successfully communicate with loved ones, friends and their community.
Communication Challenges Become More Common as We Age
While many of the changes that can affect communication skills in older adults cannot be reversed or stopped, licensed speech therapists can create a plan to identify these challenges and create an improvement plan. This can include new strategies, specialized practice and communication tips.
Physical changes that affect older adults include decreased hearing and vision, which are senses that we use to perceive and understand what others are communicating. Hearing challenges can make it difficult to hear in person and when using phones, especially cell phones. While aging generally doesn’t influence established vocabulary skills, cognitive changes can affect comprehension.
In some instances, changes can also affect the ability for older adults to communicate with others. An older adult’s voice may weaken in quality and volume, or the pitch may change, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. This can make it difficult for others to understand their communication attempts, which can affect the older adult’s confidence level. Cognitive changes may slow how quickly an older adult is able to communicate with others as they can need more time to organize their thoughts, process conversations, and select the right words to communicate their ideas in return.
It’s important to address these issues, as they can contribute to feelings of holiday isolation. According to the CDC, loneliness and isolation are considered serious public health risks in our oldest demographic group. Social isolation can also have real health consequences for seniors and has been associated with a 50-percent increase in dementia and other serious health conditions. Poor social relationships, which are often characterized by loneliness, are associated with a 29-percent increased risk of heart disease and a 32-percent increased risk of stroke.
Younger People Can Benefit from Speech Therapy Services
Communication challenges can also affect the youngest family members as they attend family gatherings and participate in social events. This can lead to feelings of disengagement and an unwillingness to participate in activities that come more naturally to others. Younger people may want to become more active participants but need the tools to feel comfortable and secure communicating. Additionally, the pressures that children and teenagers are facing at school can be very overwhelming and can easily cause a depressive episode.
Speech therapy can include strategies that help children and young adults engage and communicate with friends and family without added anxiety and stress. This can lead to more positive social experience and grow their confidence and skills needed for communicating with others.
Virtual Speech Therapy Offers Support for Individuals
Speech therapists can provide this service through a traditional clinical setting, in which they work one-on-one or in a group setting with the client. But other clients may be more interested in virtual speech therapy services, where they can receive help in their own homes via online access. This approach can be more appealing for many reasons:
- It avoids having to venture out during the winter months, when winter weather may make roads slippery or transportation difficult to obtain.
- It eliminates any perceived embarrassment at having to seek out assistance to help with communication challenges.
- It provides access to anyone, regardless of local physical access to speech therapy services.
- It provides the ability to practice new skills in a safe and secure environment with a supportive speech therapist as a guide.
While older adults may not be able to return to the communication skill level they once maintained, working with a virtual speech therapist can teach them new ways to adapt the communication skills they do have. For younger people, providing new tools and strategies at earlier life stages can make lifelong communication skills stronger. Interventions at any age provide a boost of confidence in communicating with friends and family members, not just during the holidays but throughout the entire year.
Avivit Ben-Aharon, MS ED., MA CCC SLP is the Founder and Clinical Director at Great Speech, Inc, a virtual speech therapy company founded in 2014. She is recognized as a trail blazer for nationwide virtual access to speech therapy, allowing anyone who is committed to improving their communication to receive expert services, regardless of location or scheduling limitations. Her work has been featured on Good Morning America, US News and World Report, Miami Herald and more. She holds an undergraduate and a Master of Arts degree in Speech-Language Pathology from The City University of New York. She earned a Master of Science in Special Education and Teaching from Hunter College. Connect with her on LinkedIn or via email: [email protected].